How Important is Kayak Safety?

In the past two years since the last Olympic Games the surge in water sports has gone up dramatically seeing a 26% increase across the midlands, and with the increase in people taking part in water based sporting activities learning about safety is very important. This time of the year sees more incidents than any other, as the conditions during the winter are drastically different to during the summer, when sports such as kayaking are the most popular.

There have been many cases of people not only being injured, but hundreds of fatalities from kayaking incidents in particular. For example, kayaking in areas of water that aren’t calm can have serious consequences where not only are kayakers battling with whitewater, but also the weather and if they do capsize or end up in the water somehow, they have subzero water to get themselves out of. When the body is submerged in water lower than one degrees, you have less than fifteen minutes to get out before you lose consciousness, which may seem simple, but factoring in strong waters and currents which could pull you under, and fifteen minutes becomes a very short window of time. After becoming unconscious in such temperatures, the body then has between 15-45 minutes of survival time from the cold, and that’s without factoring in potential drowning time.

In the Midlands there are many places that offer kayaking lessons and lessons in safety on the water. I spoke to Annabelle Sherry, who is training to become a kayak instructor at Bosworth Water Park. She told me ‘I have to learn various skills when I’m training to teach people safety and we have to use games and races to make it memorable and fun so it isn’t too serious as we’re preventing something dangerous from happening. I have to simulate a capsize as well where everyone is in the water and I have to rescue them all, so that I become qualified to do that and I’m also learning how to rescue people from different boats like open canoes too.’

Speaking from personal experience when it comes to safety, she explained ‘personally I hate capsizing, as it does really frighten me. Before I properly started learning to kayak safely, I was out on the water and I capsized, but due to the shock of the cold I had an asthma attack. One person I kayak with went white water kayaking a few years ago and hit a rock, and then he capsized and was trapped under the water for two minutes. Another incident lead to the death of an instructor whose legs got trapped in in canoe whilst he was upside down and he drowned as a result.’

I also sat down with a Level One Kayak instructor, Jordan Tonks, who expressed his worry about people not fully taking the time to understand the dangers of kayaking. ‘A lot of people go in kayaks without properly understanding the dangers and what to do when faced with a life or death situation. The most common thing is people capsizing and panicking and getting stuck, so our priority as instructors is to teach them how to deal with and get themselves out of that situation. The main things to know are where you’re going, where you can get off the water and any obstacles such as weirs. If you get lost its easier for other things to go wrong because so many problems arise due to poor planning of routes or diverting from a route you know.’

Ways to stay safe when kayaking include:

– Staying aware of your surroundings and ensuring that you give a wide birth to any objects sticking out of the water, as you never know how much more of it could be close to the surface.

– Avoid the water altogether if the weather seems unpredictable or is forecast to be stormy.

– Don’t kayak at night or in low light without a torch.

– Avoid rapids, especially in a recreational kayak. When the water is churning, you’ll be unable to see what’s underneath so it’s best to just avoid altogether in order to avoid any fatalities from getting stuck under something like a fallen tree or becoming impaled on a sharp rock.

If you’re interested in learning how to kayak safely, or are interested in any other water based activities, you can see what Bosworth Water Park has to offer here.

Zoe Owen

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